Cliff Porter-Stevie Wonder connection at Cargo


With six children, Cliff Porter knows how to throw a birthday party. On Wednesday when he turns 40, he will host his own all-ages party and everyone’s invited.

“Cliff Porter’s Songs in the Key of Life” will be held at 8 p.m. at the Cargo Concert Hall in the Whitney Peak Hotel. A drummer with the band Jelly Bread, Porter will be accompanied by the Reno Jazz Syndicate Big Band, which has a 17- to 18-piece horn section. Numerous guest artists also will perform.

Porter was born Sept. 28, 1976, the same day Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” was released.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Cliff Porter sticks to his dreams with support of his family.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

“I’ve been trying to put this show together the last couple of years but Jelly Bread is very busy and we stay that way,” Porter told Tahoe Onstage. “After we do the songs from the record, I am planning on doing a jam session and just let loose for a little while. We’re going to go as long as they tell us we can.”

With Porter being a lifelong Reno resident, the party should be quite festive. Porter, who was born at St. Mary’s Hospital, and his Jelly Bread co-founder Dave Berry went to Sparks High School. Porter twice left the “Biggest Little City in the World.” He played with the house band at Bally’s Casino while living a few years in Las Vegas and he worked for a while as a musical director in Arizona.

“I always find my way back home,” Porter said.

When he returned the last time in 2008, he ran into his old Sparks Railroader classmate Berry at an open mic show. They formed Jelly Bread and the funk and roots band has had great success recording albums and touring the nation. Porter sings and plays drums.

Two months ago, Jelly Bread added bass player Errick Lewis, who relocated from Portland.

“He has a kind of groove that I can vibe with as a drummer,” Porter said. “It fits. His tone is very awesome. He’s very musically gifted and he’s changing our approach to certain things.”

As someone who appreciates Stevie Wonder as much as Porter does, it might come as a surprise that he did not attend the recent concert at Lake Tahoe. Porter instead stayed in town to see his eldest son, 20-year-old Clifford Porter Jr., suit up as a redshirt freshman for the University of Nevada, Reno, football team. At 6-foot-6, Porter Jr. plays right tackle – as well as drums and keyboards.

Three of Porter’s children are in college, three in high school. Each attended Hug High, where Porter’s mother graduated in the school’s first class. (Notably, Greg Golden, the owner of Bizarre Guitar, also was in Hug’s first graduating class.)

Porter’s other children are Devin, 19, a 6-foot- 3 freshman defensive end for the Wolfpack; Janeal, 18, who plays basketball at Lassen Community College in Susanville; Trinity 17; Kyla 16; and 14-year-old Tevien.
“Two of my daughters sing, my other daughter is just a smart kid; She takes after her mom,” Porter said. “She’s a bookworm, that’s not me at all. Tevien has been on stage with Jelly Bread quite a few times. I give (the drumsticks) over to him and he goes bananas.”

Porter often is away from home because of Jelly Bread’s touring schedule. But his family is supportive.

“The good thing with my kids is they all have goals and dreams of their own so it helps them to understand what I’m doing,” he said. “They respect it and they push me to keep doing it. There are days when musicians say, ‘I should stop doing this,’ and they say, ‘You can’t.’ They are what keeps me going.”

Sounds like a song in the key of life.

Related story: Ranking Stevie Wonder’s greatest albums. LINK

  • Cliff Porter’s Songs in the Key of Life
    featuring the Reno Jazz Syndicate Big Band and special guest vocalists
    When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28
    Where: Cargo Concert Hall, Reno
    Tickets: $15

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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